Kate Brunton, a program technician with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency in Steamboat Springs, shows off one of the seedlings she soon will be planting outside.

Photo by John F. Russell

Kate Brunton, a program technician with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency in Steamboat Springs, shows off one of the seedlings she soon will be planting outside.

Community Agriculture Alliance: Start your own People’s Garden

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s People’s Garden initiative began in 2009 as an effort to encourage employees to establish gardens at USDA facilities and donate the produce to local food banks or people in need. The initiative since has expanded to more than 700 organizations involved in creating community gardens across the nation. While anyone can join the initiative, there are just three components required to register as an official People’s Garden: It must benefit the community, be a collaborative effort and incorporate sustainable practices.

Since the establishment of the initiative, all 50 states now have People’s Gardens. In Colorado, there are 10 garden locations, two of which are right here in Steamboat Springs.

Last year at the Routt County USDA Service Center, we spent an hour or two each week on our balcony tending to our People’s Garden (which we playfully named “Container Garden for the Seasonally Challenged”). Many of our materials were generously donated by local businesses. Because it was our first attempt at a People’s Garden, we had a bit to learn about the challenges of gardening in this climate. The best part about growing our crops in containers was that we were able to start the seeds early indoors, placing all of our containers in south-facing windows. Once the weather became warmer, we put all of our pots on the balcony during the work day and brought them inside while it still was dropping below freezing at night.

Our garden had its ups and downs, with some very productive lettuce, green beans, snap peas, green onions, chard, kale, zucchini, tomatoes, herbs and even carrots. All produce was donated to LIFT-UP of Routt County’s food bank. Unfortunately, the spinach and peppers never amounted to much, and the aphids killed our cucumber crop. We also realized that some of our plants were having trouble with pollination because they were isolated on a second-floor balcony, so we learned the delicate art of hand pollination with cotton swabs and tiny paintbrushes. All in all, it was a productive season with a decent harvest and a fun way to break up the work week.

We now are gearing up for our second year and are looking forward to trying new crops and techniques. It’s very rewarding to be part of an initiative that encourages community involvement and supports the local and sustainable food movements that are so vital to the future of our health, food and communities. We’d like to encourage you to join the initiative by starting your own People’s Garden.

For more information about the initiative or to learn how to start and register your own People’s Garden, visit www.usda.gov/peoplesgarden. For tips and tricks related to seasonally challenged gardening, visit the Routt County Extension Service website at www.rcextension.colostate.edu.

Kate Brunton is a program technician with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency in Steamboat Springs. She can be reached at katharine.brunton@co.usda.gov.

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